Freebie Mondays: Unapproved Hedgehogs (Story 16 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Unapproved Hedgehogs (Story 16 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “character awakens to find hedgehogs in their room.”

This prompt ties in with the space universe and features Robin’s somewhat hapless boyfriend, Daniel. I had SO much fun writing this, I decided to extend it into a second scene, so look forward to a sequel next week!
. . .

It was a rare day when Daniel was able to sleep past the first shift alarm. Usually he either had to serve ship duty or run training drills – not an unusual arrangement for a mercenary ship, but not his favorite way to spend the day. As a teenager, he spent his non-school mornings nestled in a cocoon of covers until the brightness of the sun managed to penetrate his light-blocking curtains and draw him into the world of chores.

On a spaceship, it was far easier to sleep for hours on end so long as there was nothing to drag him away. His bunk was located on an inner portion of the ship, with no outside walls and, thus, no windows. The environmental controls would remain dim until he gave some order otherwise, and he saw no reason to rush to start one of his only off-duty days this month.

He had just rolled over and settled deeper beneath the covers when a slight shifting of movement near his ankle caused his eyes to fly open.

Had he been back home, he would have assumed that movement came from the family dog settling next to him. But in the absence of any form of pet, or indeed sizable animal that occupied this portion of the ship, his mind flew instantly to rat.

There should not be rats on this ship. Not under any circumstances. The mercenaries that made their home here were somewhat fanatic in making certain critters didn’t slip into any of the crevices of their shuttles when they dropped planetside. The amount of supplies for each journey was strictly regulated, and there was no accounting for waste stolen by unanticipated passengers.

But the flurry of movement, the light brush of something moving against his ankle, was so compelling, he abandoned all hope of returning to sleep. Sitting bolt upright, he waved his hand to activate the bright overhead lights.

His initial scan of the room was cursory, but he breathed a soft sigh of relief as soon as he realized there were no rats.

The soft, small, warm body that had rubbed against him was, in fact, covered with dozens of tiny spines. His initial thought was porcupine, but the creature was far too small.

Hedgehog, his mind supplied, even as a soft skitter drew his attention across the room. A second small, spiked body dug its teeth into the base of his desk, causing a sound not entirely unlike nails on a chalkboard to momentarily fill his ears.

Daniel gritted his teeth and tried to clear his head. How the hell did hedgehogs get in his room? Where did they come from? As far as he knew, none of the people occupying the bunks in this block had approved pets.

And if one of them had an unapproved pet, the least they could do was keep it out of his room!

The nails-on-chalkboard sound returned, and Daniel finally threw the covers free of his body. Careful not to prick himself, he scooped the first hedgehog off the bed, then scooped the second off the floor. He placed them both on top of the desk, but quickly realized that was a bad idea when one bit into his pen and sent a small spurt of ink across the desk’s contents.

Panic rose in his chest. The more damage they caused, the more he would be blamed for it. And he knew almost nothing about hedgehogs except that the ones in front of him were absolutely adorable.

No, it doesn’t matter how damn cute they are. Stop and think for a minute.

But his addled brain produced little aside from panic during the allotted time period. So Daniel stumbled from his small bed chamber, and returned a few minutes later with a pot from the kitchen. He scooped the hedgehogs into it, then stared at them in wonder while he pulled on a fresh pair of pants.

If he didn’t want to be blamed for this infestation, his best option seemed to be going door to door to check if the animals belonged to any of his nearby bunkmates. But it was a less than ideal solution, since someone could easily see him in the hallway with his delicate cargo. He couldn’t exactly put a lid on the pot and rob the poor things of oxygen. Yet if someone saw him, it would only be a matter of time before the commander learned about his apparent transgression, and that would lead to a lot of unpleasant questions he would rather avoid.

“We have to figure out where you boys came from,” he announced as he grasped the pot handles and bore the hedgehogs through the door to the main section of his quarters.

Most of the barracks provided to the rank and file members of the White Dragons were small. His sitting room had space for one couch and one compact arm chair as well as the TV he had crammed onto a small bookshelf on the far side of the room. The area near the door was lined with cabinets and a small hob he could use for private cooking – though most meals were provided by the cafeteria. A small icebox had been shoved into one corner of countertop, and the rest of the space was overflowing with containers and dishes he had been planning to take care of later this very day.

One of them shuffled somewhat precariously close to the edge of the counter of its own accord, and Daniel’s heart dropped. It was all he could do not to drop the pot containing the first two hedgehogs in his haste to discover what he suspected was a third.

Onto the couch went the pot and its contents, then Daniel snatched the shifting cardboard from the counter to discover a third tiny body beneath, nosing the crumbs left over from Daniel’s last meal.

“What fresh hell is this?” he muttered as he scanned the room for any more unexpected surprises. “Where the hell did you come from?” The only possible explanation that made any remote sense was an infestation in a new shipment. But Daniel’s quarters were on the opposite side of the ship from the cargo bay, so it seemed a long way for the critters to travel unnoticed.

He was still pondering the latest addition to his hedgehog collection when the door chime sounded.

Daniel’s heart leapt into his throat and a light tingling sensation tore through his arms. “Just a second!” he called, hoping the thickness of the door would mute the desperation tingeing his voice.

Carefully, he scooped the third hedgehog from the counter. His first attempt only managed to roll the critter onto its back and, for a moment, its feet wriggled in the air while it tried to right itself. Then Daniel plucked it gently from the counter and deposited it into the pot where its fellows were attempting to scale free of their make-shift prison.

He had only a moment to compose himself before he hurried to the door. Hopefully whoever was waiting outside had come to claim their hedgehogs – that would be a distinct relief!

But when Daniel waved his hand across the sensor that allowed the door to swish open, his blood turned to ice in his veins.

Domerin Lorcasf had half-turned, perhaps getting ready to activate the door chime a second time. When his blue eyes fell on Daniel, there was something hard and cold in his gaze, as if he could see right through him and divine how he had spent the morning.

Daniel swallowed hard. Not only did he have unapproved hedgehogs in his room, he had kept the White Dragons’ commander waiting and now probably needed to explain exactly why. But all he could think at the moment was how he hated the fact that Commander Lorcasf was so damn tall – towering to almost seven feet. It was why all the halls and doorways were so large, so that the commander wouldn’t have to bend to enter every room.

Domerin’s gaze continued to bore unrelentingly through Daniel while his mind raced and, at last, the commander arched one perfect midnight eyebrow to express a silent question.

Son of a bitch! A solid thirty seconds must have passed without him saying anything.

“Uh… Er, Commander Lorcasf, I’m so sorry. I didn’t expect- What can I do for you today?”


Daniel shifted his weight so that his small frame better filled the doorway. But really, Domerin could just look over his shoulder if he really wanted to peek at the couch.

The commander’s second eyebrow joined the first, and his lips quirked in a way that Daniel could only interpret as annoyance. “You going to invite me in? Or are we having this conversation in the hallway?”

Daniel’s throat turned sandpaper dry. He wanted to charge forward and force the commander to step back so that they could, indeed, have this discussion in the hallway. But he had no idea why the man was here, and he was aware that he was acting incredibly rude. His lips parted, but no sound escaped, so Daniel simply scurried backward, leaving the path through the door open.

Before Domerin could stride forward, however, Daniel came to rest next to the couch and casually dumped the blanket thrown haphazardly over the back onto the cushion where the pot with the hedgehogs rested. It might help them climb free of their prison, but it should at least keep them concealed for a minute or two.

By the time he confirmed the hedgehogs were concealed, Domerin had strode through the door, leaving the space open behind him.

“I know you’re not scheduled for duty today, but something has come up and I could use your expertise,” he announced without preamble, at least saving Daniel the need to come up with an excuse for having kept him waiting.

Maybe the commander assumed he had only just rolled out of bed. He certainly looked disheveled.

“My expertise?” he exclaimed, surprised. He was still a fairly new recruit to the White Dragons, and he assumed Domerin wasn’t particularly fond of his skill set given the way his last review had gone.

Again, Domerin’s lips quirked slightly, as if he were about to smirk but abandoned the gesture before it could form. “We’re testing some new armor enhancements. Robin thought you might be interested. I’m offering each of the volunteers a chance to swap duty days – to make up for the loss of personal time.”

There was great appeal in this offer, since it seemed Daniel was going to spend a significant chunk of the day chasing after whoever had planted these hedgehogs in his room.

And no sooner did he think of the odd little creatures, did he spot another little bundle of spines inching toward his doorway.

It was all he could do not to shoot a look toward the blanket. But surely none of his captives had been able to so easily slip their bonds.

How many of these damn things are there?

Domerin must have noticed him staring toward the doorway, because he started to turn.

Heart hammering in his chest, Daniel slid along the couch so that he remained firmly within the commander’s gaze and stammered, “Um, yeah, that sounds great actually. What time are you planning to start?”

Domerin halted in his trajectory, though not before giving Daniel an odd look. It lasted only a moment, however, before the man stepped backward, toward the dirty kitchen countertop, and glanced at his watch. “Fourteen-hundred,” he announced. “Should give you plenty of time to get things organized before you need to report.” He glanced significantly toward the counter.

It seemed like it was meant to be a momentary glance, but something must have caught his gaze because he frowned. Tentatively, he reached up to grasp a pair of discarded chopsticks. Then he bent and drew a dark fold of cloth from the floor with them.

It took several seconds for Daniel to realize what the small, glimmering fabric actually was. And when he did, not only did his heart lodge in his throat, his face drained of all color.

The commander knew that Daniel was dating his daughter. He also probably knew that they occasionally bunked together even though they were technically not supposed to while they were waiting for a shared space to come available.

That didn’t mean it was remotely wise to allow the man to discover his daughter’s discarded underwear on Daniel’s floor.

“Um…” he choked. “I can explain.” But his voice had raised several octaves. And out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his latest guest had shimmied into the doorway to begin exploring the space beyond.

What god had he pissed off to deserve a morning like this one?

His gaze returned to the commander and he found a single perfect midnight eyebrow cocked once more, awaiting an explanation. But Daniel’s mind had gone completely blank aside from a silent chant of, please don’t go through the door.

The hedgehog clearly wasn’t telepathic, however, because even as he projected this thought in its direction, it disappeared around the corner into the hallway.

God damn it!

Domerin Lorcasf cleared his throat, and Daniel instinctively stood at attention.

“Sorry, sir, I-“

“Fourteen-hundred,” Domerin interrupted as he lightly lowered the underwear and the chopsticks onto the messy counter.

“Fourteen-hundred,” Daniel agreed, though he barely dared breath enough to speak.

Domerin swept past him, and Daniel half expected to either hear a soft crunch or a loud exclamation demanding to know why there was a hedgehog in the hallway. When neither reached his ears, he exhaled explosively and lifted the couch blanket to take inventory.

All three of his original captives were still struggling to climb free of the pot. That left only one rogue to be recovered.

Or so he hoped.

If he heard a soft tinkle of laughter while he closed the door, he paid it no mind. After all, others were surely enjoying their off duty time.

*   *   *

To Robin’s credit, she did not give her boyfriend an odd look when he bounded into her quarters carrying a pot of wriggling hedgehogs.

“You have to help me,” he hissed as he set his burden on her much cleaner countertop and removed the lid to grant his charges fresh air.

“I’d love to,” Robin replied with a sardonic smirk. “But I already have the number of approved pets.” She indicated the large dog curled on the cushion set next to the wall that adjoined her bedroom.

Henderson lifted his head to peer in Daniel’s direction, then snorted and returned to his easy recline.

“These aren’t mine,” Daniel insisted. “I don’t know where they came from. I woke up and they were all over my room and… And one escaped.” A cursory yet frantic search of the halls adjoining his quarters revealed no sign of the critter, so Daniel had resolved to simply deal with the ones he had already captured. He half-expected to return to his room and find ten more of the things poking around.

“Well they aren’t mine,” Robin replied as she crossed her hands in front of her chest. Even in a faded old t-shirt and jeans, with her hair loose to tumble haphazardly over her shoulder, she was beautiful. Daniel almost didn’t care that she was clearly enjoying this.

“I just don’t know what to do,” Daniel insisted, his tone growing ever more frantic. “If your father finds out-“

“What, that the two of you have been sharing rooms again?” the commander’s voice drifted from the depths of Robin’s bedroom before the man appeared in the doorway.

Daniel’s heart stopped for what felt like a solid thirty seconds. He could feel his body sliding into a grave, the press of dirt and earth sitting heavy on his chest.

“Commander Lorcasf…” The man’s name came out as a squeak. His first instinct was to elbow the pot off the counter onto the floor behind it, but that would simply let his prisoners free.

And besides, Domerin had already come to rest beside Robin. He was a full foot taller than her, granting him an easy view of the squirming masses trapped in the steel container.

He frowned. “I don’t remember approving a request for hamsters.”

Robin snorted, and clapped a hand in front of her mouth to keep from bursting into laughter.

Daniel shot her an acid glare. This felt like a trap.

“They’re not hamsters, sir. They’re hedgehogs.” It seemed like an odd correction to have to make. But then Domerin wasn’t human and had probably never visited Earth. It made sense he might not know how to distinguish between creatures.

“Does that make them approved, Daniel?” Domerin retorted, a hard edge to his voice.

Again, Daniel shot instinctively to attention, uncertain how else to respond to that particular tone. “No, sir. But I swear, they’re not mine. I found them.”

One of Domerin’s dark eyebrows shot skyward. “You found them?” he repeated. Half a heartbeat passed, then he added, “In your room? Doesn’t that make them yours?”

The chill passed from Daniel’s cheeks, replaced by a burning flame he could not extinguish no matter how hard he tried.

“I… guess? Technically? But I didn’t bring them on board, sir. I would never dream of bringing unapproved pets aboard your ship.” Others had tried it, and it had not ended well.

“I take it you have not been able to locate their original owners.”

It wasn’t a question, but Daniel answered anyway. “No, sir, though not for lack of trying.” Someone had to be setting up. Perhaps someone jealous of his relationship with Robin. If he ever found out who put him up to this, there’d be hell to pay. But right now he would take escaping Domerin’s temper unscathed.

The commander was watching the little figures writhe and roll within their makeshift container. Daniel didn’t hope he’d find them remotely adorable and soften to the problems they represented. The man was too strict and logical for that.

“Three extra mouths to feed is no small number in such a contained system,” he mused after a few moments, once again fixing Daniel with a stern look.

“I am quite well aware, sir, and I will do my best to take care of the situation quickly. Especially since… ah… Well, actually, there are four.”

The fire in Daniel’s cheeks consumed the rest of his face and began creeping down his neck as the commander’s dark gaze turned slowly back in his direction.

“I know how to count, Daniel. And I only see three of the critters in that pot.”

Daniel nodded, hoping to convey his understanding of the fact that the commander could, indeed, count very well. “Yes, sir. Of course. You see… one got out. While we were chatting, sir. And I haven’t been able to find it.”

If looks could kill, Daniel was pretty sure Domerin’s would have slain him on the spot.

It didn’t help that Robin had descended into a hopeless fit of giggles. Every time Daniel expanded on the depth of the problem, a fresh wave of mirth flowed from her lips, only slightly muted by the hands she had clasped over her mouth.

“Why did you not bring this matter to my attention while I was in your room?” Domerin demanded. “Did it not occur to you that I would be willing to help contain the problem?”

Daniel was actually beginning to think that falling over dead might not be so bad. It would at least save him from having to have the rest of this conversation.

Before he could answer, however, Robin finally swooped to the rescue. She slid between the two men and laid her palms against Domerin’s chest in a gesture of placation.

“Now, Daddy, you have to admit you can be a little intimidating during situations like this,” she protested. “I’m sure Daniel is doing his absolute best to solve the problem. Aren’t you, Daniel?” She shot an expectant look over her shoulder.

“Of course,” he blurted. “And I’m willing to give up the rest of my off duty day, if it that proves necessary, to locate the at large hedgehog as well as the source of this trouble.”

Domerin Lorcasf’s facial expressions were always so damn hard to read. Daniel wanted to believe he was considering the implications of such a situation, weighing who should bear the brunt of the burden for the chaos it might cause. But he couldn’t shake the idea that the man was simply annoyed and simmering in his own temper over the fact that Daniel had fucked up yet again.

Finding his daughter’s underwear in Daniel’s room probably hadn’t helped.

“You have committed to the study this afternoon,” Domerin pointed out. “So I would appreciate if you could resolve the situation by then.”

Daniel nodded, though he wasn’t sure if this was a warning to remind him that he had better keep his commitments, or a reassurance that he would still be able to regain the personal time lost to this disaster.

He would settle for simply not having to run laps.

“Thanks for understanding, Daddy,” Robin soothed. She lifted onto her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around her father’s neck.

He returned the embrace for several long seconds before he slid free of her grasp and moved toward the door. “I expect to see applications on my desk this afternoon for the re-homing of these… hedgehogs.” There was a moment of hesitation before he spoke the word, suggesting he had been about to call them hamsters again.

The commander slid through the door before Daniel had a chance to respond, and the young mercenary breathed such an explosive sigh of relief after he disappeared that he felt momentarily light-headed. He melted onto Robin’s couch and allowed his limbs to splay limply across the soft cushions.

“I’m pretty sure that man is going to murder me,” he muttered when Robin’s figure appeared hovering over him.

“Only if you don’t catch the rogue,” Robin replied with a grin.

Daniel groaned. He could only hope there was only one of the creatures left at large.

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